Thanks to Terence Blake, who made me aware of this book, I started to read Feyerabend’s postumous Conquest of Abundance. On the side, I watched the only substantial interview with the famous philosopher I could find on the internet, the Interview in Rome, from 1993. What struck me most in the interview was Feyerabend’s obvious sympathy for times before ‘Entzauberung’ – a word which is hard to translate in English. Max Weber introduced it to signify the disappearance, in modernity, of spiritual experience from the public domain. The world, the public realm in which we live, is not subject to spiritual experiences, nor magical interferences any more – but only to calculation and argumentation. While Enlightenment ideology has convinced us most of the time of the blessings, progress, and improvement of everything modernity brought – Feyerabend seems to have seen the intrinsic relationship between Entzauberung and the ugliness of our world, and also the peril we are in.
In his Conquest of Abundance he approaches this issue in ontology, in the essay ‘What Reality?’ Here he makes it clear that cultures are not closed, that we have to accept pluralism in ontology, as ‘a unitarian realism’ is unconvincing, having to reduce ‘large areas of phenomena […], without proof, […] to basic theory, which, in this connection, means elementary particle physics.’ His plea for pluralism, and for intercultural learning implies that we should take seriously alternatives to modernism as they are present in history as well as in other cultures in modern times. It struck me that even in these texts written in the last years of his life, his coming closer to a more animist outlook is still so hesitant. Just as it was with William James, in his late work A Pluralistic Universe. Of course one might explain this hesitation from their position as philosophers, having to deal with the massive corpus of writings that have tried to make belief in the soul, in life, in change extinct.
In other disciplines this hesitation is less strong – as in the anthropological work of Felicitas Goodman, who by means of practical experimentation found that ancient statuettes show body postures that lead to specific types of trance. Trance that leads one to be able to learn from the spirit realm, about health, living in peace with nature, and about the afterlife. In her book Where the Spirits ride the Wind, she describes her research in this field, and advocates it as a way to rediscover human potential that was lost not only since modernity, but much longer, every time humans transferred from being hunter gatherers or horticulturalists to large scale agriculture. The time when woods are destroyed, wild animals retreat and die, and shamanism gradually gives way to monotheistic theology. Here, with monotheism, starts the belief in the autonomous subject, the individual who is a unity like his God, and who can (and should) bear responsibility in a moral sense – as he lives and moves under the ever present gaze of his God.
We are not finished by far with the task of having to analyze the effects of this event. Declaring all history after the agricultural revolution to be mistaken would be going too fast. As would be a simple declaration that prehistoric life is beautiful, lovely and a great loss. One has to move slowly, and search for negatives and positives on both sides. One has to try to understand, to see, before judging. I do not mind someone like Goodman taking a very unusual approach methodologically, as I agree with Feyerabend that in order to understand one should try his principle that ‘anything goes’. I do not share Goodman’s pessimist conclusion however that myths that are lost are to be mourned, as ‘extinction is forever’. I rather believe in the words of the native healer from Tonga cited by Robert Wolff, the psychologist who came into contact with his own shamanic powers through the training he received from an indigenous people in Malaysia in the sixties. He spoke with this woman about his sadness that so much old knowledge has been lost. She replied, after some thought, to him: ‘[…] there have always been people who know. When we most need it, someone will remember that ancient knowledge.’ And here lies for me the important point: we cannot understand our own position in history, nor do we know whether we already need it, that ancient knowledge, and in what measure. Time will tell.
Books mentioned and cited from are:
Paul Feyerabend Conquest of Abundance. A Tale of Abstraction versus the Richness of Being, The University of Chicago Press, 1999
Felicitas D. Goodman Where the Spirits ride the Wind. trance Journeys and other exstatic Experiences, Indiana University Press, 1990
William James A Pluralistic Universe. Hibbert Lectures at Manchester College on the Present Situation in Philosophy, University of Nebraska Press, 1996 
Robert Wolff, Original Wisdom. Stories of an ancient way of knowing, Inner Traditions International, 2001